Stop this teachers’ brain drain

Has Britain got Jewish educational talent? Yes - but it is slipping away and no one seems to care.

I reached this conclusion after interviewing Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, JCoSS headteacher, who is departing for a community school in Australia next month.

Stowe-Lindner is joining family. But, as he noted, many of the diaspora's most important Jewish schools are headed by British expatriates - a veritable brain-drain, which should worry anyone who cares about our Jewish education system.

In Australia, James Kennard heads Mount Scopus, one of the world's largest Jewish schools. In the US, Jonathan Cannon is head of Charles E Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland, with 1,200 students, while Paul Shaviv (full disclosure: my father) has just moved from the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, north America's largest community high school, to Ramaz, the flagship modern Orthodox school in New York.

Why are we losing so many of our best people?

When I lived in Toronto in the early noughties, almost every senior Jewish educational position there was filled by an ex-Brit, from the local university chair in Jewish teacher education to the director of student group Hillel and the head of one of the largest primary schools.

The traffic is one-way. So why are we losing so many of our best people?

Stowe-Lindner cited the "lack of training, development, and support for current and future senior leaders of Jewish schools."

He was too polite. What it comes down to is that, compared to the rest of the diaspora, our community does not value its professionals, including its educators, enough.

Over the past 30 years, there has been an explosion in Jewish schooling here, with enrolment doubling to 26,000. A similar trend has occurred elsewhere, particularly in America. Here, the government by-and-large funds the bulk of the capital costs and secular studies, while Jewish studies are supported by modest, voluntary fees. In America, where Jewish schools are private, the community has funded the buildings and tuition costs.

Thankfully, we are spared this financial burden - but it has a downside. The other communities are far more invested in their schools, literally and emotionally. If the community, either through organisations or individual donors, has funded capital costs and if parents are paying $20,000 a year (and even if they pay far less, as most schools offer tuition assistance), the school and its personnel are taken far more seriously.

Those heading the larger institutions are expected to be superstars and are invested in accordingly, both in terms of professional development and pay.

The salaries of Jewish school principals in the UK are not bad, but the relative salaries in US schools are far higher - as are the salaries of many Jewish community professionals.

They also have more room to manoeuvre when developing the Jewish dimensions of their schools, as there are high expectations even from non-Orthodox parents, and less demands from state examinations. This must be more professionally satisfying.

Crucially, the heads of the big schools are given the respect their British peers lack. They are treated as leaders and highly regarded in their communities. By contrast, unless you have children of that age, do you know the name of the principal of JFS? (Jonathan Miller. I Iooked it up.)

We have a terrific school system that has become wildly popular. We need the best people to take it forward. We may never be able to match the US salaries, but we can still improve the lot of our senior educators. A good first step would be to recognise that we have a problem retaining them.

Last updated: 11:45am, July 15 2012